"Life is a tightrope, and at the other end is your coffin."
(Morticia Addams to son Puggsley in The Addams Family Musical)
Having had a Facebook page for quite some time now and using it for, well, nothing, I recently decided to step up the activity level and reach out to friends old and new. Heaven only knows what drives someone to make a decision like that - maybe it was seeing how Facebook got Betty White onto Saturday Night Live - but I did. For the past couple of weeks I've been actively making pithy comments on friends' "Status Updates" (which were called random thoughts before computers were invented). I also sought out some old friends.
One of the friends I sought out is a woman I haven't had contact with in 25 years. She responded to my "message" with a "friend request." (It's a Facebook thing.) It gave me a great feeling to reconnect with Maureen. I have a theory that every 16 year old boy meets a certain girl of about the same age and it gets him considering, for the first time, the possibility that baseball might be the second best thing ever invented. For me, this was Maureen. Let me emphasize that, despite my best puppy-dog efforts, nothing of a romantic nature ever came of this first crush (well, second, if you count Miss Wilson, my kindergarten teacher, and third if you count Annette Funicello in reruns). Even at 15 she was too smart for that. We did, happy to say, become friends and stayed in contact for a number of years before life does that thing where it sends people off to different destinies. Today the crush is long gone, and my respect for who Maureen is and what she has done with her life remains great. I am looking forward to getting to know her again. My first post to her "wall" (another Facebook thing) was a note welcoming her to Facebook, and providing a friendly warning not to get involved with Farmville, an abyss to which many go and from which few return.
At about the same time I reached out to another old friend, this one from my days on Prodigy in the early-to-mid 90's. (For younger readers, think of Prodigy as the internet version of 8-track tapes.) It had been about 15 years since I'd had contact with Anne. A paralegal and freelance writer, she was wickedly funny and totally delightful. Her life was not smooth but she never failed to impress with the upbeat energy and humorous, indomitable spirit with which she handled it all. As with Maureen, time and distance never kept Anne from remaining one of my favorite people. To this day, her picture - smiling with her eyes as much as with her mouth, and flanked by her two adorable then-toddler daughters - hangs on the wall in my home office. Over the years, I sometimes found myself wondering how she is. And so, armed with the Internet, I was now able to set out to find her Facebook page or e-mail address.
What I found was her obituary.
It was from about a year ago, and was accompanied by another, more recent picture at age 42. Her smile was still as room-illuminating as it was in the picture she'd sent me all those years ago. I read some blog entries she'd written in the months before her death. She'd fallen on seriously hard times of several types. I don't know the cause of her death, and there's a good chance I never will, but the lack of any reference to an illness even as recently as her last post a month before she died got me thinking. So I read more. Several months before, at a time when her own house was being foreclosed on, she'd written a blog post about a study she'd seen linking a rise in foreclosure rates to a rise in suicide rates. And I read comments posted to her blog after she died by people she was close to: one writer said he wished he'd listened more to what she had been trying to tell him; another expressed regret at not being there more for her; a third wishing Anne's soul the peace it never found on earth. There's no escaping the thought that these are not things people would typically say when someone's death was accidental or natural.
It's human nature - at least I think it is - to start thinking that had I only reached out a month before her death instead of a year afterward, I might have been able to say something, do something, suggest something, that would have made a difference for Anne and prevented this from happening. It's an ego-driven, fantasy-based notion that's complete nonsense, of course, something that is probably true of most things that can be ascribed purely to human nature. But I find I think it anyway.
And so, in a single, mighty cosmic sweep, one valued soul is returned to my life and another is taken from it forever. There's a lesson in there somewhere, and as soon as the irony stops shouting, maybe I'll figure out what it is.